Defining Business Process Management

Business Process Automation (BPA)

BPA simply means automating a business process. Since the advent of the first commercial computer in 1951, companies have embraced technology to streamline and speed up their support activities for greater operational efficiency. As far as primary activities, today a number of technology families have emerged for this purpose, including workflow systems and, more recently, Internet technologies such as application servers. While just about any technology can be used to automate business processes, the real issue companies face is how to optimize and manage those processes after they have been semi- or fully automated.

To date, business process automation (BPA) requires delving in technology plumbing and diddling with complex computer programs for each instance of business process change. That means that technologists, not business people, are required to create or change an automated business process. Companies are so bogged down in expensive and tedious efforts to rewire technology for each process change that, often, needed business change is simply foregone, as it isn't practical or feasible. Thus, business process automation falls short in meeting the needs of time-based competitors and is unable to take companies much beyond where they are today, stuck with rigid business automation systems. Even with a veneer of business process modeling tools made available to business people, technical staff are still required for business process change in most BPA scenarios. But, we'll say it again, the ultimate challenge of business process management is not just the automation of business processes, it's their management thereafter, for change is a certainty. Thus, companies want to go beyond business process automation and on to business process management without having to run through the technology gauntlet.

Business Process Management (BPM)

BPM is a business discipline or function that uses business practices, techniques and methods to create and improve business processes. From this general definition, just about any process improvement discipline or activity, including reengineering, TQM or Six Sigma quality methods, outsourcing and lean manufacturing, can be considered as BPM. Thus, from an extremely general perspective, BPM has no distinguishing definition at all; it's just about anything that contributes to process improvement—it can mean whatever you want it to mean.

On the other hand, the term BPM has been propelled onto the front pages of the business and technology literature for far more specific reasons. Whether manual or automated, companies have learned that the piecemeal process improvement methods and techniques they have scattered throughout their organizations don't produce breakout results. So, if your manufacturing division uses Six Sigma, and your marketing department uses voice-of-the-customer techniques, without talking to one another, that doesn't mean you have a process-managed enterprise, the kind of enterprise that produces outstanding and sustained business results.

BPM in its contemporary context is a holistic vs. piecemeal approach to the use of appropriate process-related business disciplines that are used to drive business performance improvements, not just across the departments in a single company, but also across multi-company value delivery systems. This approach has only now become practical as a result of the new category of BPM software systems.

BPM Systems

BPM systems are technologies designed for the complete management, not just the automation, of business processes, from creating innovative new business processes, to their redesign and improvement over time. BPA, the one-off automation of a business process, is only a part of a complete BPM system. It's the "M" in BPM that really counts, for change is not a one-time affair.

BPM systems provide computer assistance for supporting all process work such as Six Sigma initiatives; mergers and acquisitions; overriding processes embedded in ERP systems; implementing industry-specific collaboration protocols such as Rosettanet Partner Interface Processes for the IT industry supply chain; or complying with regulations such as the Sarbanes-Oxley Act.

Automated support systems are absolutely necessary to deal with today's complex business structures and to get beyond the piecemeal approaches to process improvement. Without this automated support, it would take armies of people to take on the real tasks of real-world process work.

(Extract from 'The Real-Time Enterprise' by Peter Fingar and Joe Bellini)